A Road Trip Through Hades Delivers A Reminder Of The Important Things In Life

May 2019

In early May I embarked on my annual road trip, migrating from my warm winter haunt in the Everglades to my summer retreat in the cool mountains of Colorado.  It’s a long 2,500 mile excursion in my Xterra SUV towing a 25-foot travel trailer that serves as a mobile fish camp.  The first day and a half went smoothly, and then I took a detour off Interstate 95 to visit Charleston, South Carolina, where I had worked on a legal assignment for a private client some four decades ago and then again in the 1990s drafting historic preservation plans and standards.  Back in the 1970s the city was struggling economically and trying to leverage its historic buildings to revitalize the community.  I was more than pleasantly surprised to see Charleston looking great!

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Hundreds of new apartments have been built outside the historic core, which is thriving.  When I crossed over the Cooper River on the stunning Ravenal Bridge, I was greeted with a scene of hundreds of young people jogging, walking, and pushing baby carriages, a testimony to the new lifeblood of Charleston.  What a great tribute to visionary Mayor Joe Riley who served the city well over 40 years from 1975 to 2016.

But then disaster struck about 100 miles north just outside Myrtle Beach.  Tired of the gawd awful traffic around that ode to sprawl, I took a cut-off to get back on Interstate 95 post haste.  Little did I know that I was joining a traffic nightmare created by weekend beachgoers hustling home on this narrow four-lane highway.  About 10 miles up the road a young woman turned in front of me at a busy intersection.  I swerved but with the big trailer in tow, couldn’t avoid her and with a sickening crunch my trip came to a crashing halt.  I struggled to gain control of my rig and almost succeeded, but the trailer veered to the side and skidded into a deep ditch, then began to roll on its side.  The force of the careening trailer tipped over the SUV as well.  The whole thing played out in slow motion.  As my truck lurched over on its side, I remember thinking “will I ever see my sweetheart granddaughter Aly, my two boys, and all the other people I care about who put up with me.” Next I remember the side air bags blowing.  When it was all over, I was suspended high up by my seat belt in the SUV which was on its side.  I couldn’t get out because the driver’s side door was jammed, which gave me time to think about the important lessons in life as I waited to be extricated by the firefighters who arrived from a nearby station within minutes.  Fortunately, aside from a few scratches on my leg, I wasn’t hurt, and the young woman escaped unscathed as well.  Of course, the saga didn’t end there.  It took better than an hour to winch the SUV and trailer upright and tow them out of the way.  Miraculously, my prized Hobie fishing kayak lashed to the top of the Xterra was unscathed!! 

Hobie Kayak Survives!!

And when the mechanics at the tow yard said they could get the truck and travel trailer patched up so I could continue my journey, I foolishly agreed.  They said just don’t drive over 55 mph.  The thought of having to rent a truck and empty out my SUV and trailer to get back home was just too daunting to consider.  But of course that’s exactly what happened a day up the road when the differential started leaking oil on the hot rear brakes, and I flew down the road billowing smoke.  It took me four hours in the hot sun to transfer all the gear, etc. from the SUV and trailer to a U-Haul truck and hit the road once again, waving goodbye to my faithful Xterra and fish camp that appeared headed to the salvage yard.    Now I will tell you 1500 hundred miles in a noisy rental truck so loud I could barely hear the AM/FM radio (no Sirius, no Bluetooth, no CD player) gave me even more time to mull over life’s lessons and other observations.  Here they are, in no particular order.

 

 

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Now For The Rest Of The Story:  Behind The Big Fish And Big Smiles Lurks Mangrove Mayhem

Early April 2019

Anglers can’t resist showing off a big fish, where size really does matter.  Ever wonder about the back story behind the smiling pix, the agony as well as the ecstasy?  Here goes….and this is a true story!!

My erstwhile fishing buddy Bob Wayne and I love to probe hidden backcountry tidal creeks in the Everglades where big snook lurk in narrow channels lined with downed trees and mangroves.

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Robert Wayne, Esq., An Expert Fly Fisherman And Noted Big Fish Angler, Subdues Muscular Mayan Cichlid In The Wild Everglades Backcountry

The mangroves are an essential element of the ecosystem here, providing shelter for myriad small fish, crabs, and other life.  But their thick, dangling air roots will tangle a fishing line in a flash if a hooked fish dives under them, not to mention they are covered with razor-sharp barnacles that will slice and dice anything that rubs against them.

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Grasping Air Roots Of Mangroves Spell Trouble For Unwary Anglers

In these tight quarters only a small, narrow boat like my Gheenoe can squirm through, and our hard-earned experience has taught us it is a real team effort to hook and land big fish successfully.

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Author And His Trusty Gheenoe

One Angler with a 6-to-7 foot medium/light spinning rod and 2500 Series reel is positioned upfront on the small bow deck with the Wingman in the back of the boat where he is outfitted with the remote controls for a small quiet electric trolling motor and the shallow water power anchor that with a push of a button unfurls and pins the boat firmly in place.  The Wingman doesn’t fish.

Our efficacious technique to land big fish in these mazes has been honed through trial and error, with the emphasis on the latter.  By the numbers, here is how it is supposed to work:

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2018 HooknFly Blog High-Water Marks:  The Best, the Bummers, and the Blood-Curdling

December 30, 2018

Greetings and my best to all my friends and readers for a great 2019!! It’s been a very fulfilling and fun year writing my blog.  As well as providing an admitted excuse to go fishing and explore remote places, my main goal is to help reinforce and build the constituency to preserve and protect these wild and wonderful places.  Given the current state of politics in the country and multiple threats to our environment and natural resources, it’s more important than ever to take a stand and do whatever we can to protect Mother Nature.

An added and very satisfying benefit has been connecting with people and making new friends around the USA and the world—readers from over 60 countries.   As of Dec. 31, the blog has had over 40,000 views and 16,000 visitors, a 50% increase over 2017.

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Now it’s easy to figure out why most of my readers are from English-speaking countries, but who am I to ask why someone from the United Arab Emirates, Vietnam, Brazil, or Turkey would take a look.

As the year comes to a close, I found it enlightening and gratifying to look back on the best, the bummers, and the blood-curdling moments of 2018 from a piscatorial perspective.  Here you go….

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Lunch With Berkley Bedell–Fishing Tackle Entrepreneur Par Excellence And All-American Success Story

December 2018

Every serious angler has heard of the Berkley tackle company that has introduced many cutting-edge innovations to the fishing world since its creation in the 1940s.  But do you know the story of the man behind the company and his quintessential Horatio Alger story?  I didn’t, so when a fishing buddy, Bob Wayne, called to ask if I wanted to have lunch with the company’s founder, Berkley Bedell, I jumped at the chance.  He knew of my love affair with Gulp Swimming Mullet, a lure made by Berkley, and how I doted on my Berkley Lightning Shock fishing rods.  Little did Bob know, however, that my love affair with Berkley went back almost six decades.

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The Big Ark: Row vs. Wade Revisited

Late September 2018

The creeks around my home base of Salida, Colorado, are barely a trickle reflecting the drought gripping Colorado.  The Big Arkansas River, my home water, is running at 200 CFS, the lowest I have ever seen it since I started fishing here in the early 1990s.  I can wade across it just about anywhere.  Normal is about 350 CFS.  But at least it has some water and is fishable.  Indeed, the fishing gurus at the Ark Anglers fly shop report that the fish are actually doing better than usual because they haven’t had to fight the usual artificially high summer flows that result when upstream reservoirs dump water to support the recreational whitewater rafting industry.  The Arkansas is the most heavily rafted river in the world bar none!  Literally thousands of rafts careen down the river each day all summer and into the fall.

Back in the 90s, the Big Ark was my favorite water.  During the week, it was mostly deserted, with only a few hearty anglers scattered over almost 50 miles of good trout water.  But even then, it was starting to be a battle with the recreational rafters.  I was writing a conservation column for American Angler back then, and penned an article titled “Row vs. Wade” that documented the growing conflicts between the rafters, float fishermen, kayakers and the lonely angler like me in chest waders.  After having boatloads of cheerful whitewater rafters plunging through honey holes I was targeting and asking me “how’s the fishing?”, flotillas of kayakers porpoising in rapids only a stone’s throw away that I knew held big rainbows, and float fishing guides letting their clients cast in pools just upstream from me on my side of the river, I suggested a river code of civility that respected the traditional wade fisherman with his limited range on the water (e.g., if you are a float fisherman and see a wade fisherman downstream, quit casting immediately and hug the bank on the other side of the stream till you are a quarter mile below him).

Unfortunately, when the Ark was declared a Gold Medal Water by the State of Colorado, which was like erecting a big neon sign for every angler in Denver and Colorado to come get it, and the creation of the Arkansas Headwater Recreation Area (AHRA), a joint federal-state effort ostensibly to better manage the 148 miles of river between Leadville and Pueblo, that actually resulted in attracting more hordes of campers in RVs and every other imaginable form of shelter to primitive campgrounds along the water, things just deteriorated.  The weekends are a total write-off for any sane fly angler, and even during the week it isn’t unusual now to see dozens of anglers along the river in addition to all the hoi polloi on it in watercraft (oh, did I mention the addition of SUPs stand-up paddle boarders to the mélange??).

Now I know I am sounding like a curmudgeonly, grumpy old F**T, but as a result I just gave up fishing the Ark altogether during the summer and, like this year, just waited to early fall for my first outing on my beloved home water.  This September I chose a stretch far enough above the AHRA campground at Rincon where float fisherman, rafters, and kayakers often use the boat ramp to launch and far enough below access points upstream that I might get lucky and not have to curse and wail when I got run over by knucklehead watercrafters—at least until later in the day.  On a beautiful sunny fall day, I set out with high hopes….

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